Mirrorless Isn't All It's Cracked up To Be

Mirrorless Isn't All It's Cracked up To Be

Mirrorless cameras have been taking over the photography scene for quite a few years now, and they're widely heralded as the next step in photographic innovation. But there are quite a few reasons why they're not the game-changer we were expecting.

I'm all for adopting new technology to help make my life as a photographer easier, faster, or to improve the quality of my work. However, I find it difficult to accept the mirrorless movement as this huge step forward in camera evolution. There are several things that need to be addressed in order for me to acknowledge its prerequisite of being "essential for my kit bag." So I've decided to compile a few of my main gripes with them and explain a little about why I'm not so sure it's the wonder pill for photographers that it's meant to be.

Viewfinder Woes

Call me a traditionalist, but I love an optical viewfinder. Looking through a portal into the physical world free of distortion and other optically hindering stumbling blocks is something that I take great pleasure in, so much so that when comparing my Nikon F100 to the Nikon D750 I had for years, I was rather disappointed. The F100 had a larger field of view, and it was considerably bigger (at least to my eyes). It felt like I had a real connection with the world in front of me. However, my point is that I could live with it.

EVF viewfinder

The biggest display on the device is a rear LCD screen, but pop your eye into a mirrorless viewfinder and you'll find... another mini-screen!

Take that a step further with the latest mirrorless cameras, and I struggle to remain tolerant. Not only do I now have to peer into a small box with another screen in it, but now my access to the world is limited by frame rate, color gamut, brightness, and resolution. If I open both eyes (as you should if you're a pro, check out my other post on that), then my view of the world feels imbalanced. The only consolation is that because I'm peering into an electronic viewfinder, I can now ramp up the exposure brightness when shooting in low light, which helps me see (and focus) in the dark.

It Means New Lens Collections

Are you ready to sell all your old kit and lenses and start afresh? Because that's what you'll want to do to take advantage of what mirrorless brings. Let me clarify. There are many of you out there right now about to head to the comments and tell me that there are lens adapters; yes, I know! But it rather negates the advantage of mirrorless systems. However, mirrorless systems outperform their DSLR brothers and sisters due to improved flange distance and high-quality engineering in the lenses.

Mirrorless and DSLR lens comparison

Mirrorless cameras and their lenses are comparatively smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts, and often have higher quality optical characteristics

So, yes, you can use a lens adapter with your older DSLR lenses, and that should work perfectly fine, but you're keeping the same old larger lenses and now introducing an adapter, which almost negates the point of having a smaller body in the first place. Plus, the newer mirrorless lenses have special features such as customizable rings on the lens to adjust specific camera settings.

Overheating Issues

Hot warning sticker on camera

Maybe there's a reason that warning labels exist on some of the mirrorless cameras?

Unfortunately, because of the smaller form factor that comes with the mirrorless cameras, they are more prone to overheating, that is, getting so hot during operation that they need to be turned off and/or cooled down before using again. True, this only affects certain models and under specific operations (such as 8K video recording), but it's still enough to put me off. Did my DSLR ever overheat? No. Did my film SLR ever overheat? No. For me, I'd like to feel the flexibility of being able to shoot as much as I want, wherever I want, without limitation.

As Limited as a DSLR

I outlined in a recent post that although mirrorless cameras are the next step in the "proper camera" lineage, we will have to wait for the improved integration of these cameras into our everyday lives. For example, their connectivity to our existing devices is sub-par for now. Why do I need to download an app, get it to sync with my camera, have it lose connection a few times (in my experience), and then have to edit on my phone before uploading to my favorite social media? I think it would be far better to do some editing on the camera itself that integrates with my Lightroom catalog and then automatically share it via the camera to social media, rather than having to introduce another step and get it to my phone, tablet, or laptop.

Mirrorless camera body

I'd like to see a vast improvement in connectivity and sharing with the ability to edit using Lightroom-style features and share with my

In this respect, my mirrorless camera is about as useful as the DSLR, which can do pretty much the same thing. I appreciate that camera manufacturers are trying to introduce new apps and integration software, but I think the communication between camera manufacturers and software manufacturers needs to be stronger and that connection between platforms much more smoothly developed to make it a paradigm shift for the user.

When Will I Upgrade All My Kit?

Mirrorless cameras are great, useful, and serve to be the next step in camera evolution in terms of size and weight, and there are plenty of cameras out there that have exciting new features that DSLR cameras will probably never have. The almost-standard five stops of in-body image stabilization is awesome for doing all kinds of things, such as shooting in low-light conditions and shooting handheld video with smooth, dolly-like tracking. But are they the "holy grail" that many people appear to be purporting? Should you swap all your gear and buy into this system just because it's the latest iteration of the technological generation? Well, I personally don't think so. It'll take a little bit more to convince me that it's the game-changing step that others have us believe it is.

Log in or register to post comments


Previous comments
David Jenkins's picture

Lots of opinion in this article. It's very easy to say that optical viewfinders are unbeatable for sports and wildlife but you wax nostalgic on how an older camera did it better and how you personally prefer them. New lenses aren't a bad thing, advances in optical tech should be seen as a good thing. Overheating issues I can understand though, it's a very valid point. Title is click-baity, please don't turn into Petapixel.

ed krisiak's picture

There is a reason DSLR sales are down and mirrorless is up. Surely Fstoppers can do better and not use click bait articles.

Timothy Gasper's picture

Looks like there's a new debate...arguement - whatever. Well....have fun everyone.

Michael Clark's picture

Why limit yourself to only DSLR or only mirrorless? Why not use whichever one works better for specific shooting scenarios?

Gil Aegerter's picture

Remember how, before mirrorless cameras, nobody could take a good picture?

Bill Kearns's picture

I've read an abundance of reviews and comments, plus watched many videos...all with an eye toward changing from my Nikon D750 to mirrorless. I've held the Canon M50, R6, the Nikon Z6, as well as a Sony A6400 or 6600, and an AR7iii......they all feel so much lighter for my 67 year-old arthritic fingers. Granted, my D750 has taken some beautiful (to me) photos, but my fingers are becoming overwhelmed with pain all too often. I will likely get a mirrorless model pretty soon during holiday sales, and then sell some or all of my Nikon gear. Heck, maybe I'll go for an XT-4 and learn some video skills.

Ken James's picture

Don't have arthritis but my left side doesn't work very well due to a stroke 10 years ago, only having about 30% use. So I use a. Velbon monopod which folds up to just over 10". I screw this on the camera and hang it all from my neck using a padded strap. I then hold the monopod with my left hand as best it can and use my good right to do any adjusting of zoom settings, manual focus etc before using it for pressing the shutter. All takes time but I get there. I also have difficulty on anything but level ground so am a bit restricted as to where I can go.

The love of photography overcomes age and all its associated problems. 👍

ali yaghoobi's picture

i think nikon is best and number 1

sam w's picture

I almost feel like I'm missing out on the overheating thing. never have had a problem with my MILC overheating.

the viewfinder thing is all related to the manufacturer and how they design things, but here too, I've not had any issues seeing through my viewfinder eye what I see with my other eye, or feeling any imbalance between each eye.

any of the other disadvantages are washed away though...

the MILC gives one huge benefit with the flange focal distance being so short, you can pretty much get an adapter for any former lens mount ever, so long as the image circle covers the sensor. that plus focus peaking.

Dillan K's picture

None of your points bother me in the least. I guess mirrorless is not for you. It's not for everyone, I guess.

anthony constantinou's picture

Swapping all my gear and buying this system just because it's the new iteration of the technological generation is not sounding good to me as well. Thanks for the update

mike stringer's picture

I believe mirrorless is awesome in the dark , I like the timer on a digital when doing long exposures at night . However for 8 frames a sec for " ACTION " with an optical viewfinder AWESOME . ( I have 10 cameras , ....I dont change lenses .....I grab a different camera (( also cameras last.... , Batteries last ...., no dust on sensor)) ) . mke/frm/can

Dave Haynie's picture

Yeah... not so much. I mean, you're under the impression that the Nikon F100 has a great viewfinder? Seriously? Yeah, it's a good camera, but pick up an old Olympus OM-1 or a ... well, geeze, I dunno. Most companies just didn't bother. That was my camera as a teenager -- did I start at the top back in the 70s? But calling out the tiny viewfinder magnification of either the F100 or the D750 doesn't seem to be making one's case against mirrorless. My Micro Four Thirds Olympus cameras are fairly comparable to your F100, 0.74x vs. 0.76x... nothing like the 0.92x glory of the OM-1. But with mirrorless, the electronic coupling of the image to the viewfinder lets you do whatever you want as a camera designer.

With a DSLR, you're stuck with the light and image size entering the lens. And before it even gets to the eye, 25% or so is stolen for the autofocus system. This not only makes DSLRs and latter day SLRs dimmer than classic SLRs, it has made most companies use a condenser or partial condenser as a focusing screen rather than true a true diffuser (ground glass). So you can't even accurately focus with your eye on a DSLR... you depend on AF.

And 95% of the time, I'll trade off optically looking through the lens to digitally looking "through the film" on a mirrorless. Once we got to 2.5 megadots or so, I was still aware that I was looking though an EVF, but it didn't bother me. Once we got to 120fps, that was fast enough. I don't own the 3-5 megadot display cameras on the market, but yeah, they're getting past your eye's ability to resolve. In return, I can use manual lenses without any pain. I can see what I'm going to get in my images in realtime. I can visualize in B&W or simulate the appearance of a long exposure. I can get peaking indicators to maximize DR. It's just an overall better tool -- for me.

Far as the lenses go, yeah, you might need new ones, though every DSLR makers has produced adapters to seamlessly support at least some of their SLR lenses on MILC. And while the short flange might help, I think the main difference between SLR and MILC glass is just the advance of time. Every SLR system goes back decades, before computer aided lens design. MILCs go back to 2008. In a few cases, like Canon, the company decided to just make "hero" lenses in order to make pros use their whole system, not just buy a body and a lens adapter. I though it was a good strategy in 2018, and it seems to have worked.

Philip Wowk's picture

Just a quick note. One person said he could get away with taking shots as slow as 1/10 th of a second with his Sony Z7. What?!. I can consistently take shots at a quarter of a second with my d3500!. Sometimes a third. What's all that about?.

Charles Mercier's picture

You need image stabilization on both the body and the lens.(Though all new mirrorless bodies have it. Older ones, not necessarily so.) Of course, you still won't be able to do it with a 300+mm lens.

Norm Clare's picture

"Did my film SLR overheat?" LOL .. on a 36 exp roll it didn't overheat? fantastic!